Alain Simoneau and the Quebec Secular movement are challenging Saguenay city council for beginning its meetings with a non-sectarian prayer that includes the word “God.” Also, for displaying Christian symbols “such as a crucifix or statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” This lawsuit is about the state associating itself with a religious observance and symbols of a particular group (Roman Catholic symbols) rather than stifling religious expression. This case is in the Supreme Court of Canada after Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a human rights tribunal that ruled against Saguenay.
The lawyer representing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association suggests this association with religious observance and Christian symbols are excluding atheist and non-Christians “from the Values of city leaders.” The judges inquire if the mention of “the supremacy of God” in the preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means something for the practice of religion in the public sphere. Richard Bergeron, a lawyer, representing the state advocates that a ban on public prayer “denude the Canadian identity in favour of a bland multiculturalism.” The Judges inquires “how to draw the line between religious symbols and symbols of Quebec’s cultural heritage, drawn in many ways from Catholicism.” The issue is Mr. Simoneau not wanting to go through religious observance to exercise his citizenship rights.
Civil religion integrates politics and religion in an inclusive manner that places emphasis on a universal “God” that unifies people. Canada benefits from civil religion inclusiveness as a multicultural nation with religious pluralism. As Alain Simoneau implies, the meetings begin with a non-sectarian prayer that includes the word “God.” This form of prayer is not to a specific God (example Judeo-Christian God) rather a prayer to a God-behind-all-gods. The use of religious symbols on public building is also an example of civil religion, but it becomes problematic when the government favours one religion over the others as in this case. Civil religion with its benefit of promoting religious tolerance excludes atheists like Simoneau, who do not believe in God that civil religion emphasizes.
The lawyer representing the council suggests that a ban on public prayer “denude the Canadian identity in favour of a bland multiculturalism.” I have to disagree with this notion because Canada Identifies itself more with multiculturalism than it has with a religion even with its Christian heritage. Quebec nationalistic identity formerly lies on its Roman Catholic background, as its influence is the cross on its flag. Recently we have seen Quebec become a circular state with a previous call around 2013 for the banning of religious symbols in public.
I am of the opinion that the Supreme Court should rule in favour of Alain Simoneau. Political gathering such as city council meetings should not include any religious element as it makes it difficult for non-believers to participate fully as they will feel unwelcomed. The government should not take a position on whether God exists thus alienating atheists from fully participating in the public sphere. The lawyer of the Council cited the use of prayer and religious symbols to suggest Canada is a Christian nation and undermines Simoneau argument for the separation of church and state.